Seeing Richard V. Somes’ “El Peste” is like sitting through one of those steamy Pinoy films from the late 90’s to the early 2000s. The color-grading, camerawork, and even the premise scream 90’s Bomba Film, and to be fair, one that’s fairly well-executed. It didn’t win plenty of awards, but I think “El Peste” is actually one of the better entries in this year’s Sinag Maynila.
“El Peste” follows Abner (Mon Confiado), a lonely, eccentric man who works in a pest control company. His daily routine includes visiting rat-infested houses, deliver a giddy sales pitch, and coming out of it, leave the house pristine and pest-free. It’s not the most dainty vocation, but as a pest-buster, Abner from the outset feels content, even passionate about his job. But out emerges Viola (Jean Judith Javier), a doggedly housewife who after one encounter Abner falls smitten for. And soon he finds himself delaying the completion of his work in order to visit her more often. As his visits become more frequent, an affinity between Abner and Viola blossoms, eventually leading to an illicit sexual affair.
This title “El Peste” all buts prepare the audience for some stomach-churning. It might as well have the word “transgressive” flash in neon lights. There’s a bit of gore, domestic abuse, sex, and alarmingly most of the stuff that make up poverty-porn. The cinematography aptly embraces dirt and decay, coating most of the scenes with the decidedly murky palette of bright yellow, brown, and green.
Confiado’s performance is noteworthy. It’s unflinching how he ably switches from charismatic to downright creepy. Jean Judith Javier, on the other hand, is an edgy damsel in distress. Her character is the subject of domestic abuse, befell at the hands of his abusive husband, Dodie (Alvin Anson), yet she’s not entirely powerless—-there’s enough ambiguity in her performance that alludes to the fact that she’d weaponized her allure, and it’s very damn well effective.. Finally, Alvin Anson as Dodie is intimidating, menacing, and even amusing. Many times the film has me wondering if the man is deliberately trying to be funny. Strangely, his character grows out to be the film’s much-needed comic relief.
“El Peste” is not for everyone. Certainly not for the squeamish, but those looking for edgier tales skewed with irony. And compared to some of the entries in this year’s Sinag Maynila, this one sits primly in the middle. It’s an okay film to sit through once, but not one I’m not exactly looking forward to seeing again very soon.
2018 / Drama, Horror
Director: Richard Somes Screenplay: Richard V. Somes and Boo Dabu Cast: Mon Confiado, Jean Judith Javier, Alvin Anson
ABNER (Mon Confiado) lives a drab, downcast, solitary existence. His wife has abandoned him for good. Working for pest control company Panther, his job remains his sole connection to the outside world. It seems going nowhere until he meets VIOLA (Jean Judith Javier), a client who is existence is as sad as his. Wife of a vain college teacher DODIE (Alvin Anson), Viola is a trapped bird. And meeting Abner seems to give her a chance to fly free. The house, infested with rats all around, becomes a powder keg of emotions and danger as sexualtension between Abner and Viola turns to illicit affair, all happening under Dodie’s nose. In order to extend their relationship, Abner devices something that will eventually lead to a tragedy that will change their lives forever.
“El Peste” is not for everyone. Certainly not for the squeamish, but those looking for edgier tales skewed with irony. It’s an okay film to sit through once, but not one I'm not exactly looking forward to seeing again very soon.
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